Did You Know? The Sistine Chapel

Did you know the size of the Sistine Chapel is based on the dimensions of the Temple of Solomon, as given in the Old Testament? It measures 134 feet long, 44 feet wide and 67 feet tall. During the reign of Pope Sixtus IV, a team of Renaissance painters that included Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Roselli, created a series of frescos depicting the Life of Moses and the Life of Christ, offset by papal portraits above and trompe l’oeil drapery below. These paintings were completed in 1482 and on August 15, 1483, Pope Sixtus IV celebrated the first Mass in the Sistine Chapel for the Feast of the Assumption.

It wasn’t until 25 years later that Michelangelo began to repaint the ceiling. It was originally painted as golden stars on a blue sky. The number of square feet in the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo amounted to 5,800. It took him four years to paint the ceiling (beginning in 1508). In 1980, restoration began on the ceiling, which took 12 years to complete.

In 1515, Raphael was commissioned by Pope Leo X to design a series of ten tapestries to hang around the lower tier of the walls. The tapestries depict events from the Life of St. Peter and the Life of St. Paul, the founders of the Christian Church in Rome, as described in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. Work began in mid-1515. Due to their large size, the manufacture of the hangings was carried out in Brussels and took four years to complete. Raphael’s tapestries were looted during the Sack of Rome in 1527.

Although best known for the ceiling of the chapel, Michelangelo also painted The Last Judgment between 1535 and 1541. The work was designed on a grand scale and spans the entire wall behind the altar of the Sistine Chapel. The painting depicts the second coming of Christ on the Day of Judgment as described in the Revelation of John, Chapter 20.

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